A joint-jurisdiction state-tribal community wellness court for the Kenai Peninsula has been authorized through a cooperative effort of the state of Alaska and the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.
Tribal officials joined representatives of the Alaska Court System and the state Department of Law on Oct. 20 in Fairbanks to sign a government-to-government memorandum of understanding in support of creating the Henu’ Community Wellness Court.
The new court will target drug and alcohol offenders, including those in families with Children in Need of Aid cases, living within the Kenaitze Tribal service area, tribal officials said. Defendants charged with property crimes may also be considered, if the offense is drug related.
The signing followed several months of meetings of state, judicial and tribal representatives with stakeholders and members of Project TEAM-Together Everyone Achieves More.
Training and technical assistance in designing and implementing the joint jurisdiction justice project was provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. The project is based on other joint-jurisdiction courts where results have shown reduced recidivism, increased public safety, and improved relationships between the tribe and the community.
Kenai Superior Court Judge Anna Moran and Kenaitze Indian Tribe Chief Judge Kimberley Sweet will preside at hearings in the Kenaitze Indian tribal courtroom. “Our community is inundated with addictions and the collateral damage that this epidemic is leaving in its wake,” Sweet said. “Henu’ in the Dena’ina language means the willingness to work, to cooperate and to be helpful – and that is what this project embodies. It has been a privilege to collaborate with the Alaska Court System and our dedicated community partners and I am honored to be part of this team,” she said.
The Kenai and the Kenaitze courts worked collaboratively for several years to create the wellness court.
“Both courts have a deep commitment to their community and to resolving the substance abuse issues that affect the well-being of our community,” Moran said. “The dual jurisdiction court will be an important resource for our community because it will allow Kenai to provide a therapeutic court to its community struggling with addiction and other issues.”